All photographs by Ashley DeLatour
The spiders have been inviting me to write all day: one in my hair, one on my coffee cup and one in the sink. Microscopic reminders of the story I’ve been delicately weaving in my mind. I sit for a brief moment, contemplating pen and paper. Puzzle pieces gathered at my feet catching afternoon light beg me to pick them up. Attend to me, they say. There is always something unfinished. I need to unravel my thoughts onto paper, but I continue, frantically tidying the messes that surround me. Fear that my story won’t have a happy ending keeps me moving and ignoring their call.
But the spiders persist, asking me to be courageous and look closely. I wonder if the sadness of my story will swallow me whole? Will I be able to erase the guilt I feel over being the mother I am and not the mother I thought I would be? My web was supposed to be made of thicker, more beautiful material, the kind that sparkles with dew in the morning light. I had planned on making it inviting: full of magic and wonder. Walking toward my web, I heave a giant sigh and begin to cry. I can’t find myself in the darkness.
It started over five years ago with a low IGG, IGA immune deficiency diagnosis in my daughter, Lilly. Chronic sickness, countless blood draws, days at the hospital with specialists, sleepless nights and a life of isolation from the germ-filled world were the first slashes in the canvas of my “Cliff walk at Pourville” Monet vision of motherhood.
In search of a better life and smaller germ pool we moved to Bellingham, Washington. A two-hour drive from my childhood home: away from the familiarity that had once been comforting and effortless to navigate. Ultimately our new home was the town we wanted to raise our children in, so it all felt worth it. The move itself and meeting a community of gold-hearted people were easy. Then, less than one month in, we found ourselves in story filled with trauma that still feels like a slap in the face.
After multiple job losses my husband and I found ourselves tangled in a mess of part-time work. At its height we were balancing eleven part-time jobs—mind you, we have two small children. Since then, I sustained a bloody blow to the head via garage beam and am still dealing with a minor traumatic brain injury. My sweet Lilly severely broke her arm, complete with an ambulance ride, major surgery and four-day stay at Seattle Children’s Hospital along with a five-month recovery. Both of my kids are struggling in remarkably opposite ways in school and suffering under countless transitions as we adjust and readjust to living at poverty level. I keep thinking it will get easier and it doesn’t. I’m exhausted from trying to shine up a turd that quite frankly won’t shine—because it’s shit.
With giant holes in my web: dreams, financial security, emotional stability and resources seem to slip from my grasp. I feel myself evaporating in the fragility of my circumstances. I want to turn back the chapters and rewrite my children’s stories. I want the healthy, secure, adventure of a childhood I had imagined for them, full of soft muted colors and cool blue water. I thought I would be better at this, but the juggle is epic and I’m not trained in circus arts.
I bend, twist, adjust, contort, and I am transformed by heavy breathing and pain. I’m at the end of what feels like all I can take. My eyes slowly adjust in the darkness, and I see my web: a carefully constructed and fragile piecing of hard right angles, mangled cymbals, bobby pins, cardboard and a butter knife. Inside each dark corner there are the tiniest strokes of white paint, highlighting a path of micro-miracles. I expected to live in the blurred pastel shapes that all make sense when you step back, but this was something entirely different. A steampunk creation, completely alive, moving and saving every crumb of goodness it can. In the center of my nonsensical masterpiece, I saw it. In between three rocks was my heavily bruised peach heart: extra sweet, compassion soaked, banged-up, tenacious and loved. There I was, still breathing, loving and changing.
In that tender place where pain happened and life went on beating, I sat. Stunned by the realization that my painting had been crushing me. The expectation I had placed on life to be a beautiful cliff-side stroll, parasol in hand, from one happy event to another was too much. My web wasn’t the art life I wanted to create, but it was honest, human, raw and my new hero. I’m starting to see the magic and freedom by embracing it. I walked into a story that ended up being really scary and have survived through a massive amount of re-inventing and welding. Effortless, no. Forged in fire, yes.
Inside my machine-web I sob with appreciation for what we have endured. I pet my head with the softness of a feather and tell myself that it’s incredible. It’s an off-putting, mangled, fought-for web that could only be made by fierce love and heartbreak. Finding a comfortable spot amidst the chaos I let go of the sparkles, Monet visions, technical precision, enjoyment and ease I had hoped for. I am not, nor is our life, a canvas painting.